How to survive London – a guide for first time expats

How to survive London cover

Moving to London is part of the Kiwi experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one hell of a big step. So here are just a few of my tips for settling into the big smoke.

If you have any to add (or think I am way off the mark!) just tweet, Facebook or comment below.

Welcome to London y’all.

*Last updated in November 2015*

First few days

Before you arrive book a hostel or arrange to sleep on a friends floor for the first few days – you just need somewhere to get over the jetlag. After that I highly recommend a short term let (where someone has gone on holiday etc and you stay in their room), it means you have some stability but are not locked in before you know where you are working. I found mine on Move Flat, but also look on Spare Room or Facebook.

In your first week you will need to:

  • get an Oyster card – just go to your nearest station and pay £5
  • get a phone or SIM card for your phone – look at Orange, Three, Vodafone, Talk Talk, Giff Gaff, EE and T-Mobile to see who currently has the best deal
  • organize your national insurance number – just call the number on this page, they will send you a form to fill out and send back
  • get a bank account – see below

Bank accounts

The main banks in the UK are: Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS, Nat West and Santander. Currently the easiest bank for new arrivals Lloyds because they just need to see your passport (not proof of address).

But to choose any bank you want, get your NZ bank to redirect your statements to a UK address (even if it is a friends), the Banks are happy to use this as proof of address.

NB: most banks DON’T accept the national insurance letter as proof of address.

You should be able to get a basic bank account with no monthly fees – if they say you have to pay because you just arrived you should go to another bank. I choose to pay a monthly fee because my account also gets me travel insurance and mobile phone insurance and the monthly fee is cheaper than getting them separately. It totally depends on what you are looking for and is worth shopping around for the best offer.

Apps

Having a smart phone will basically save your life in London. The main apps to download as soon as you get here (you may need to switch to the UK version of the App Store first) are:

  • City Mapper – This will save your life time and time again, essentially a one stop shop for how to get from A to B. It takes into account Tube closures, and also combines bus/tube routes to give you the quickest options. Also it always shows a ‘rain safe’ option which should be taken very seriously indeed.
  • London Tube Map – this is a no-brainer, essentially just a tube map on your phone.
  • Tinder/Happn – Less of a way to meet people, more like free entertainment.
  • BBC iPlayer/Channel 4 OnDemand/UKTV Play – all ways to watch TV legally over the internet if you haven’t sorted a TV.
  • SkyScanner – compares all airlines so you can book the cheapest or most convenient.
  • Skype – your parents would kill me if I didn’t include this one.
  • Flatmates in London – New app on the scene to find flatmates in London

Transport

I didn’t know if I should include this or not,it all seems so obvious when you have been here for more than a week. Then I remembered my panic the first time I caught  a bus and well.. here it is.

Bus:

You swipe your Oyster when you board but not when you leave (you just push the bell and get off). YOU CAN’T USE CASH you either have to have an Oyster card or a contactless debit/credit card. At the moment (August 2015) a bus trip is a flat rate of £1.50 per ride no matter what the distance. But make sure to check here for the latest prices: TFL Prices.

Tube:

Less scary and confusing then you think, after all if you get on the wrong train you just get off at the next stop and start again. Pricing is per zone (i.e. more expensive if you cross over zones) and if you are under 26 you can get discounts by using a Young Persons Rail Card. Before you get the tube, just check google maps because there are some parts of Zone 1 where it is far quicker to walk. Top tip: don’t be a dick, give up your seat for anyone who needs it (even when you have to play the pregnant or fat game in your head). Again you can use your contactless debit card (if you got your bank account sorted) instead of an Oyster, just make sure you tap in and out with the same card.

Bike:

You can hire a Boris Bike all over London, you then just return it to another convenient docking station. Just be careful, because traffic in London is scary and you will most likely be riding without a helmet (which apparently is totally fine here).

Taxi:

In London the only cabs that can pick you up on the street without a prior booking is a Black Cab. Not kidding on this one, no other taxis are allowed to pick people up off the street. There are even massive advertising  campaigns about how dangerous it is to get into an unlicenced cab (the gist of which is all the unlicenced cab journeys seem to end in rape, theft or murder). The only way around this is by pre-booking with a mini-cab company (pre-booking could mean 5min before you are ready to leave). I always use Kabbee because it compares all the nearby mini-cab companies and gives you a rating for them. You can always go Uber but I personally don’t agree with their ethics, so I stick with hailing a Black Cab on the street or using Hailo to flag one down with my phone.

Jobs

As a general rule for office based jobs it is a good idea to register with two or more recruitment companies, and then bug them to death (they will forget about you). Shapelle has written a great piece on recruitment companies and job hunting in London which you can read here.

The recruitment companies over here are industry or job type specific. So you first need to find out which recruiter is going to have the type of job you are looking for. The best way to do this is ask someone already in the industry, but assuming you don’t know anyone go to a job site like Guardian Jobs, Total Jobs, Monster or Reed. Recruiters post job adds there, so find a job you are interested in and then approach the recruitment company that posted it. And if you are truly freaking the freak out about getting a job, click the panic image at the bottom of this post.

Food

You can feed yourself in London far cheaper than in New Zealand. I highly recommend going to markets for cheap fruit and vegetables, they are everywhere so just do some googleing for one near you.

In terms of supermarkets Waitrose is considered to be the most expensive, but they have some of the best meat/fish around. Sainsburys, Morrisons and Tesco are middle if the range, much of a muchness price and quality wise. The cheapest options are Aldi, Asda and Lidl, worth stocking up on basics.

Clothes

Kiwis are known for shopping up a storm when they first arrive. This is partly because there is some incredible shopping over here, but mostly because we had to pack our entire lives into a suitcase (and you had to make the hard choice of hair straighteners over those amazing glitter stilettos).

As an emergency measure (i.e. if you expected summer and got winter, the airport lost your luggage, or you are skint) start at Primark. The quality is not fantastic, but it is the ultimate in fast fashion where most of the clothes are under £10. Along the same lines is TK Maxx which is a bit like Kmart in NZ.

H&M is also a really good place to start, particularly for interview clothes. I got a jacket there for £14 that has managed to secure me two jobs. For vaguely less fashionable but yards ahead in quality, go to Marks and Spencer or John Lewis.

Although you can get a cheap suit at Primark and a still cheapish but a bit nicer suit at H&M; if you are after a proper corporate uniform head to TM Lewin, Marks and Spencer or Moss Bros.

When you get the flu after a week

First stop is Boots, which is a massive chain of chemists. The pharmacists in Boots are pretty good, and if you ask them simple health questions they can quite often help you out on the spot.

If you do need a prescription you have two options. You can go to a NHS walk-in centre – you will wait for a couple of hours but will be seen by either a doctor or nurse and you normally don’t have to pay anything.

Or, if you have a permanent address you can register with a GP. You can’t just pick which one you want to go to, they have catchment areas and they have to be accepting new patients (check out your options here). You then need to fill in a form and show bank statement or bill as proof that you are in their area and you can make an appointment to see them.

If it is life threatening the emergency services number in the UK is 999.

Rather confusingly (for Kiwi’s at least), over here 111 is a number for non-life threatening emergencies, if you are panicking and need advice it is the number to call.

Clothes hangers and rubbish bins et al

When you do finally move into a permanent flat, locating some of the mundane aspects of life can be challenging. Below is a list of shops to check out:

  • Poundland
  • Robert Dyas
  • Supermarkets
  • Marks and Spencer
  • Primark (for bedding)
  • John Lewis
  • IKEA
  • Argos

Social media – your new lifeline

One of the biggest surprises since moving to London is the extent to which social media has become ingrained in the expat lifestyle. If you need help, advice, or just need to know where to watch the rugby Facebook groups like Kiwis in London are the answer.

When you are new to a city even the smallest things can be seriously confusing (the two things that confused me when I first arrived was how to register with a doctor and where to buy coat hangers… the two are totally unrelated). But with a Facebook group you can quickly find the answer from the community.

Twitter has also been brilliant, both in finding other adventuring expats and in finding things to do. I (like the majority of people living in London) am completely skint, but because I follow @skintlondon on twitter I can fill my weekends with cheap/free activities.

It sure beats sitting at home complaining that you can’t afford a pint.

Making friends

This is one that took me almost a year of being here to learn. Some people move over here with a group of friends which is ideal because you have a buddy for all your London firsts. Me? I jumped the gun on London and moved a couple of years before my friends.

After months of walking and wandering on my own I decided to be brave and go out and meet people. I joined a netball team (until I realised that it involved running…), found a book club, attended blogging network events, and stalked Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi.

These were all activities that suited/interested me; if you want beer and rugby there are support groups out there for you as well.

Yes you feel like its the first day of school and are asking the kid eating crayons to be your friend, but the reality is that most expats (and some Londoners) are in the same position and are overjoyed to expand their social circle.

Some ideas for the lost and lonely:

  • go to KIL drinks (don’t worry if you are by yourself, just buy the guy next to you a shot and it will all be ok)
  • attend pub crawls e.g. Waitangi day pub crawl
  • social sports teams
  • evening classes
  • ask people at work out for drinks

You are in a city of almost 12 million people, there are friends out there. Find them.

So youve decided to move to London oh

60 Comments

  1. Rachael
    March 27, 2013 / 9:56 am

    Perfect timing! I’ll be referring to this often.

  2. Kelly
    March 27, 2013 / 8:46 pm

    Perfect timing for me also! Arrived in London today so this has been great to read – thank you 🙂

  3. Anthony briden
    March 27, 2013 / 9:03 pm

    You don’t happen to know what it is like getting prescribed ritalin for ADD or a number i can call. i am from new zealand and its my first time in europe (currently liveing in sweden) heading to uk in the next few months, have a irish citizenship and passport any info would be much appreciated.

  4. Sophie Adams
    March 27, 2013 / 9:51 pm

    I just moved here in feb and this is soooooo spot on haha! I’m the same with just packing up and going a few years ahead of my friends at home, and making friends Is definitely the hardest thing so far! I get excited if someone turns to me and asks what the time is thinking that I might find companionship in that… Haha thanks for the bank advise to that’s super helpful! 🙂 what’s a good way to fond teams and groups to join? 🙂

    • March 27, 2013 / 10:16 pm

      This was the netball team I joined http://www.onenetball.com/. But to be honest just google your chosen sport plus the area you are in. Some of the websites are TERRIBLE, so I recommend just emailing them and asking if they have social teams.

      Easiest way to meet people is to go along to something like the Kiwi’s in London drinks – be very brave and start talking to everyone. But outside that I would choose something you are interested in and join a class/club/facebook group.

      It can be a bit hit and miss, but keep trying and you will eventually meet some cool kids!

  5. Vanessa
    March 27, 2013 / 8:53 pm

    What a brilliant idea – wish I had this to read when I moved from NZ 9 years ago!
    Especially the info about supermarkets, Boots etc; I spent a bloody fortune in Waitrose in the first few months and couldn’t find a chemist to save myself !

    Great post hun, glad I’ve found your blog and looking forward to more posts 🙂

    • March 27, 2013 / 9:10 pm

      Thanks for the comment, I figured I had to write it now before I forgot all the important things (like waitrose!)

  6. Ben
    March 27, 2013 / 10:51 pm

    Haha loved the coat hangers comment. That seriously stumped me! Cool blog, keep it up.

    • March 27, 2013 / 11:25 pm

      I didn’t realise how bad it sounded………….

      Thanks!

  7. March 27, 2013 / 11:51 pm

    Great post & so true about the coat hangers. I also struggled to find lint rollers. Small stuff I know, but when you can’t find them….

    • March 27, 2013 / 11:52 pm

      And don’t have any clue where to start looking!

  8. Graeme Jones
    April 6, 2013 / 5:40 pm

    What a Fantastic Idea. U will be a life saver to many Kiwi’s. No mention of buying a lemon (car or Van) though for Europe Trippin K1W1s?

    • April 6, 2013 / 7:28 pm

      Never done the car thing – might be for a future post!

  9. April 8, 2013 / 4:18 am

    When I moved over I actually opened an account with HSBC BEFORE moving to London, then just activated it when I arrived.
    I found that easier as there was less stuffing around with proof of address on arrival.
    But that was seven years ago, that may no longer be an option!

    • April 8, 2013 / 7:49 am

      I think it still is, but they require a crazy amount of money to be deposited into it.

      • April 9, 2013 / 2:19 am

        Ah that’s true. I had to use all my savings to open in.

        Tho to be fair I needed all my savings to fund my first few months of London pubs. I mean life…

        • Charlie
          February 3, 2015 / 8:30 pm

          How much is a crazy amount??

          • runawaykiwi@gmail.com
            February 4, 2015 / 7:44 pm

            I got quoted 10,000NZD by one…mental

  10. david
    January 14, 2014 / 7:44 am

    Good blog..don’t forget – cheapest place to get a edible meal is lunch at a Witherspoon pub or in the supermarket ‘morrisons’ restaurant. Lidl’s supermarket have all manner of stuff changing ezch week..at next to nothing prices eg boots, jackets, tents, car jack..you never know what’s gonna be on special – worth checking their website or flyers..oh and you can get nearly anything like coat hangers at your local car boot sale…Enjoy

  11. Broz
    January 14, 2014 / 3:03 pm

    If you are looking for that little bit of home in the way of family, culture, other expats please do go along to Ngati Ranana which is the London Maori group. You don’t need to be able to speak the language or even be maori, they will welcome you in with open arms. I went along, found a job, and travel the world with them. Every Wednesday night at the nz house in Picadilly circus at 6:30pm. Drop my name Broz, or Uncle Bruce. You will love it.

  12. Hagen
    January 18, 2014 / 5:30 pm

    Awesome blog, keep it up.
    Also just to add to it:
    * Halifax are a good option for free bank accounts. They only require your NZ Passport to open one (can be all done on the same day), then get a statement sent out and you can use that statement as proof of address for anything else.
    * Best place I’ve found to get any SIM, is CarPhone Warehouse – they are really helpful.
    Check out Lyca Mobile, they have good rates (£10/pm) and so far have been brilliant to use all over London.

  13. Sarah
    May 5, 2014 / 1:16 am

    HI There – I’ve done things the other way round. Ireland to Auckland.
    Can I recommend the Meet Up groups. Ive been going to loads here and lots of Kiwis involved but expats too. It has been a brilliant experience and you can go snorkelling, hiking, movies, berries – whatever takes your fancy really. I’m not a ‘joiner’ of things..but Meet Ups have been brilliant. Like minded, sociable, genuinely good people. Have fun! Sarah

  14. Hamish Martin
    May 28, 2014 / 11:32 pm

    arrive in london 3 june,, don’t know a soul,,
    I have a job interview but am unable to get work as I am ova 30,, well over!!
    will stay in gatwick for few days , then will see what happens, maybe hang in london & meet some kiwis !!

  15. July 2, 2014 / 10:51 pm

    What a great post! So useful and everything you need to know in the one spot. Brilliant.

  16. Charlie
    February 3, 2015 / 8:29 pm

    You are a legend! Please keep it up, will need these lifetips very soon!!

    • runawaykiwi@gmail.com
      February 4, 2015 / 7:45 pm

      Aww thanks. Let me know if I am missing anything!

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  18. February 25, 2015 / 10:34 pm

    Such a useful post, thanks! Looking forward to using all these tips when we make the move over in May!

  19. Shauna van Bruggen
    March 8, 2015 / 6:51 am

    Thank you so much for this post hun!

    I am moving over in July, such great advice here 🙂
    It is very daunting but so exciting!

    • runawaykiwi@gmail.com
      March 15, 2015 / 8:14 pm

      Eek so exciting! Its daunting until you are over here and can actually take those first step…then you realise that you TOTALLY GOT THIS! XX

  20. ian mercer
    April 14, 2015 / 12:21 pm

    This seems a bit overkill. I reckon I could sum up everything you need to know if far fewer words:
    Thinking of moving from NZ to London? Follow these simple steps to ensure satisfaction!
    1. Don’t. New Zealand is superior to the U.K. in all of the most important aspects.
    2. If you fuck up this first step then fear not! You can still salvage the disaster that now is your life. As soon as you land in whichever airport start making plans for travel again. Move up north. Liverpool or Manchester.

    All in jest of course! Although a lot of truth tends to be said in jest.

    • runawaykiwi@gmail.com
      April 14, 2015 / 2:35 pm

      I’m amazed tourism New Zealand hasn’t been in touch what with your delightfully broad minded approach to the world.

  21. April 16, 2015 / 7:15 am

    Awesome blogging, I’ve just moved over myself. I was lucky as a gift I got a kick start package totally recommend it if you plan to move over. They sort bank account number, NI number,get a sim for you and sign you up for job agencies. Also have your first transfer from NZ dollars to pounds for free 🙂 it has made everything so easy.

    • Vidhya
      October 4, 2016 / 12:37 am

      Hi Mary, what company did you get in touch with that sorts this for you?

  22. Grace
    April 17, 2015 / 3:59 am

    Good post!
    A few other things that may help: if you’re lucky enough to be traveling to London on a British passport, you probably won’t need a proof of address to open a bank account. I opened one with Barclays Bank with just my British passport. The visas are a little trickier.
    Also if you have a westpac bank account then use Barclays ATMs to withdraw cash, They are part of the global alliance so it doesn’t charge you extra fees to withdraw cash, just the conversion rate
    🙂

  23. July 12, 2015 / 12:36 am

    This post is so helpful – I’m so worried about things like getting a bank account when I get to London, so it’s nice to get some advice from someone who’s done it. Thanks!

  24. Melissa
    August 6, 2015 / 4:49 am

    Great read!

    I’m moving to NZ to London in September to stay for a year as an au pair. I thankfully won’t need to worry about accommodation but all the rest – very helpful!

  25. Jack
    August 26, 2015 / 9:39 pm

    Thanks so much for this! I move to London in a fortnight and I am freaking out about it.

  26. September 23, 2015 / 3:17 pm

    What a marvellous Blog, If only I stumbled upon this when I first moved to London! It’s really detailed and well written. An issue which I really struggled with was actually fitting in and finding people to do things with, I was quite lonely. I actually signed up at a website called http://www.WouldLoveToGo.com which helped me find people to go out with, I attended their meet up events and met people that way, Highly recommend joining something like that to anyone new to London.

  27. Stuart
    October 15, 2015 / 8:16 pm

    If anyone is still looking for tickets to this Saturday’s rugby world cup quarter final in Cardiff – please send me an e-Mail if interested – harrison_stuart@hotmail.com. I’ve got 2 tickets that I would like to go to genuine fans either from New Zealand or France – selling at facing value – Category B tickets – 2 x £215 = £430. Thanks Stuart

  28. Peter Smith
    October 22, 2015 / 5:06 pm

    Rebecca your blog is a god send – thanks so much for sharing, I bookmarked your blog (I arrived a week ago) and just spotted the National Insurance recommendation and called them to request the application pack, there was so much data to process my brain has been in information overload! My original visa application was declined due to applying for the wrong type of visa – while all the support information refers to a UK Ancestry Visa, in the application portal this visa type is called Non-Points Based Visa Application – UK Ancestry. I couldn’t find any Ancestry visa types when applying so thought Right of Abode would do because it allowed for applications coming from Commonwealth countries – it was an expensive mistake and I had to bully the helplines to clarify what UK Ancestry is called in the application portal (they wouldn’t tell me) – but we got there in the end, The other useful lesson I’ve learned is what a bedsit is in London – its the equivalent of a boarding house. I’m staying with friends but will be moving into a bedsit to be closer to the action – I’m pleased to find something like this because prices are affordable (100-150 pounds) and if you are lucky the bedsit will have its own basin/shower and you aren’t trying to fit in with existing flatmates (you might share bathrooms, but that’s all – you are entirely independent) – anyways, another Kiwi thanks you for your blog!

  29. Leana
    November 5, 2015 / 7:52 pm

    Just want to say, this blog is seriously going to help me out next year!! I’ve bookmarked this blog on my phone and Laptop!! Thanks for all the info! Please keep blogging! 🙂

  30. Jack
    November 17, 2015 / 12:37 pm

    One thing about the transport you might want to add is that busses announce which stop is next (unlike in NZ) so you don’t have to worry about missing the stop city mapper is telling you to get off at. It took me ages to get the bus cos I was sure I’d miss my stop.

  31. Brett
    December 30, 2015 / 3:31 am

    Thanks for the info! I move over in 3 weeks and I have found this useful. Having some info on what to do when you arrive in London helps calm the nerves a bit! Thanks again, and I look forward to reading any further updates!

  32. January 11, 2016 / 9:49 am

    Valuable information you got here Every first timer to London needs this information!!! I’m glad I stumbled on it while browsing the web and such an interesting article to read.Lots of useful information I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts and time into the stuff you post!! Thumbs up

  33. Nikki
    February 1, 2016 / 4:11 pm

    Hi Rebecca! Honestly, what a star 🙂 This is invaluable information for someone starting out. I’ve been referring back to it every few days. Thanks so much for your help – Nikki (Kiwi) xx

  34. February 12, 2016 / 2:25 pm

    I’m moving for a while to London at the end of March and definitely needed some advises like yours. I already have a moving company which services I’ll use – http://manwithvanenfieldhighway.co.uk/ , but your guide is essential for me. Thank you for sharing all this precious information!

  35. February 18, 2016 / 12:07 pm

    Hey Rebecca, thanks a lot for this. I’m quite fresh to London, so this was very helpful.

    I’m thinking of writing some of my tips on my blog, will definitely link back to this!

    http://www.henryhq.com

  36. April 13, 2016 / 11:06 am

    Hello! Could I please ask what bank was giving you free travel insurance? Thanks

    • runawaykiwi@gmail.com
      April 13, 2016 / 1:06 pm

      Natwest 🙂

  37. Kay
    May 9, 2016 / 3:13 am

    Hi Rebecca! Thank you so much for this guide and for your whole blog. It is ridiculously helpful! Would you mind letting me know, as someone who will be relocating to London soon, if there are any significant updates or changes you’re aware of since the last update in 2015? Thank you so much! xx

    • runawaykiwi@gmail.com
      May 9, 2016 / 2:35 pm

      Hey! Nope it is all pretty much the same 🙂

  38. Blanca
    November 11, 2016 / 8:34 am

    Hi Rebecca, I am from the states and am a bit unsure about the Visa. Can I move there first with my own Visa when I go or do I have to apply for one first? I guess what I’m asking is can I apply for everything once I get there. When going thru customs and am asked how long I’m staying, what or how do I explain?

  39. Siobhan
    December 22, 2016 / 3:04 am

    This is great! I’m planning on moving after 2017 and am setting myself up for it. I can’t wait! It’s looking like a solo move too for now with friends to follow.

    Great tips and advice here!